Keeping Our Children Safe

As survivors of abuse, and parents who must share access of our children with our abusers, it is critically important to talk to them about protecting themselves from sexual abuse. Why? Because according to research, studies indicate that a batterer is about four to six times more likely than a non-batterer to sexually abuse his children (see Lundy Bancroft [Internet Archive link]). So, it is critical that we talk to our children about good touch and bad touch and about protecting themselves.

When you talk to your kids about protective behaviors (learning to keep themselves safe from sexual perpetrators), I think it’s a good thing to use the proper names for their body parts. Kids can get confused about what parts are private if they don’t know the real names of the body parts, and perpetrators can use the fact that the kids don’t know the real names, to trick and confuse them and gain access.

Teach your kids where their private parts are and that they are private. Some people say anywhere that a swimsuit covers. Teach them that no one should look at or touch those parts (with their hand, mouth or their own private parts, or with any object) and that no one should touch their private parts on any part of your child’s body, or ask the child to touch the other person’s private parts in any way. The only people who can touch a child’s private parts are doctors and nurses and only for medical reasons.

I also think it’s important to clarify that not even parents can touch in those places, and that sometimes people will try to trick kids into thinking it’s a special thing or a special way for dads and daughters/sons, or mothers and daughters/sons, to show love to each other, but that that is a trick and a lie.

Other tricks perpetrators use to gain access to kids

(Source [Internet Archive link])

The Apple Of My Eye Trick

The first trick is named after Laura Ahearn’s “The Apple Of My Eye” sexual abuse prevention program. This trick is at the top on her list for the most insidious of all because predators use the same innocent vulnerability we strive to protect in our children for purposes of methodically gaining their trust by giving special attention to them so they can eventually sexually abuse them. Children seek love, attention and affection and sexual predators use this vulnerability to “seduce” a child the same way they would attempt to seduce an adult.

Accidental Touching Trick

Children are often unaware that an accidental touching may be intentional, or may be an offender making touch seem innocous or ‘normal’ so they can attempt to touch closer to genitalia the next time.

Assistance Lure Trick

An offender senses a role he might play by assisting a family with children. His assistance might be needed for babysitting or for driving a child to activities. Watch for those who are more interested in your child than you; there is a reason.

Authority Trick

Many of us have taught our children to respect authority without realizing that individuals who target our children take advantage of their position such as a teacher, coach, religious or club leader or even parent.

Desensitize Trick

Offenders may continually talk to children about sex or use pornography to demonstrate sexual acts. They may arouse a child’s curiosity by emailing or leaving sexual material and aids around where they may see them.

Drug & Alcohol Trick

Drugs or alcohol can be used to incapacitate a child making them highly vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Emergency Trick

Crisis can be confusing for young children and offenders count on that so they construct an emergency to lure children.

Friendship Trick

Older children may bribe a younger child (or same age) by saying that they will not be their friend anymore unless they participate in a sexual act. A parent may tell their child that they will not love them anymore or that the child must not love the parent if they don’t want to do it.

Games Trick

Body-contact games such as wrestling or tickling are played where touching genitalia is part of the rules or part of the ‘normal’ behaviour.

Hero Trick / Special Privileges Trick

(Coach / Teacher / Parent / Person In A Position Of Authority)

Children are often impressed with those individuals they look up to such as those in a position of authority like a coach, teacher, parent, older cousin. They may endure abuse to maintain a relationship where they are receiving special privileges for fear of losing those privileges

Outing Trick

Offender is continually attempting to take a child out alone for special trips or outings and insists that no one else attend.

Threat Trick

Children may be threatened into cooperation and further silenced. Once the abuse has taken place, they threaten to expose the child either to their other parent or to their friends. The offender may threaten the abused child into recruiting other children.

Teach children to tell safe adults

Some secrets should not be kept secret

There is nothing so bad that you can’t talk with someone about it.

(Source [Internet Archive link])

Teach children that if something happens which makes them feel unsafe, they should tell a trusted adult or adults, and they should keep on telling until something is done about it, so they no longer feel unsafe. Teach them there is nothing so bad that you can’t talk with someone about it — that would be a good sign to put on the fridge.

Some of the literature on this topic assumes that both parents are safe, and thus encourages the kids to tell both of their parents if someone has tried to touch them inappropriately; but what if the perpetrator IS one of their parents? I suggest you tell the kids to tell someone they trust, someone who they feel safe with, instead of simply saying that they should tell their parents.

You could talk about who safe people are for them and even help them make a list of those people who they could tell if they felt unsafe. Let them know it’s ok for them to tell anyone on their list, but that they need to tell someone they trust. An idea for making the list is to get the child to draw an outline around their hand and on the drawing the child then labels each finger with the name of a different grown-up they could tell (another item for the fridge?)

Talk to your kids about secrets, because perpetrators often use these as a way of keeping kids from discussing what has happened to them. There are good and bad secrets and kids can get confused as to which is which.

If someone asks you to keep a secret and says you must keep it secret otherwise he or she will get in trouble, or will get angry, or someone else might get hurt, and the person says you must never ever tell anyone else, that is not right.  Some secrets should not be kept secret. Tell your child “If you feel unsafe or yucky about anything and someone says you should keep it a secret, you do not have to keep that secret. Some secrets should not be kept secret.”

On the other hand, good secrets are ok; you know they’re okay because you only keep them for a little while and then tell the person, to surprise them (like a suprise party) and it’s always about good things, not bad things or things that make the child feel bad. No one gets hurt with good secrets. When it’s a good secret, no one lives in fear because of it.

The most important thing is to talk to your children about this. Help them protect themselves as best you can. And with that, I will leave you with three more lists that I believe are critical for protective parents to know:

Common things abusers say, to keep children from telling about the abuse

“If you tell, I will get in trouble and so will you.”

“If you tell, I will hurt / kill your loved one or pet.”

“If you tell, no one will understand and we will both get in trouble.”

“If you tell, I will kill / hurt you.”

“If you don’t tell, I will get you xyz.”

“Daddys and daughters show love this way and it is a secret just for us.”

“If you tell anyone, they will blame you.”

“If you tell, I will say it is your fault.”

“No one will believe you.”

“If you tell, I will tell them you are lying.”

“Your mom / dad will be SO angry with you if she / he finds out.”

“Mommy / Daddy is not here. She / He isn’t part of our family, so we don’t have to tell her / him.”

“This is normal. I am teaching you how to be a woman / man.”

Signs that your child has been or is being sexually abused

(Source [Internet Archive link])

Behavioral Signs

  • A fear of certain places, people, or activities, especially being alone with certain people
  • Reporting feeling forced or coerced into giving affection
  • Reluctance to undress
  • Disturbed sleep/frequent nightmares
  • Sudden mood swings, withdrawal, rage, fear, anxiety, anger
  • Excessive crying
  • Avoids touch
  • Loss of appetite, or trouble eating or swallowing
  • Drastic change in school performance
  • Drawing with bizarre themes
  • Sexually acting out on younger children
  • Sexual behavior or knowledge beyond their years
  • Has new words for private body parts
  • Reverting back to outgrown behavior (bedwetting and thumb sucking)
  • Suicide attempts
  • Self-mutilation

Physical Signs

  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Itching or pain in the genital areas
  • Excessive bladder infections
  • Excessive urinary tract infections
  • Excessive yeast infections
  • Bleeding or trauma in oral, genital or anal areas
  • Swollen or red cervix, vulva, perineum
  • Sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy or AIDS

Red flags to look for in identifying perpetrators

(Source [Internet Archive link])

Red Flag 1 – Someone who wants to spend more time with your child than you.

Red Flag 2 –  Someone who manages to get time alone with, or attempts to be alone with your child or other children

Red Flag 3 –  Someone who insists on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling or holding a child, even when a child doesn’t want this affection

Red Flag 4 – Someone who is overly interested in the sexuality of a child or teen and asks either the parents or the child sexually-oriented questions.

Red Flag 5 – Someone who relates extremely well to children and spends most of his/her spare time with them and has little interest in spending time with individuals their own age

Red Flag 6 – Someone who has few or no boundaries and does not respect the limits of their role in their relationship with children.

Red Flag 7 – Someone who regularly offers to babysit, help-out or takes children on day or overnight outings alone.

Red Flag 8 – Someone who buys expensive gifts or gives children money for no reason.

Red Flag 9 – Someone who frequently walks in on children/teens in the bathroom or bath tub while they are showering or changing.

Red Flag 10 – Someone who inappropriately makes comments about the way your child looks.


For Further Reading

Protective Behaviors for Children

9 thoughts on “Keeping Our Children Safe”

  1. Thank you for this Deborah.
    It’s such a difficult topic to steadily face, when one is a protective parent and has to make the kids available to the other parent who may be quite unsafe for the children. Brave you for writing this and for doing all the research towards it.

    I know a woman whose child was sexually abused by her ex-husband while on visitation. She told me that she could see him working up to it but was powerless to stop it until he stepped over the line. She felt numb, weird, almost paralyzed, seeing it coming but being unable to prevent it. The court order and the abuser’s emotional hold over the child was such that if she had withheld visitation she would have been taken back to court for breaching the visitation orders, and the child would have sided with the abuser because he had the child wrapped round his little finger, in a combination of the ‘let’s hate mom, she’s awful!’ alliance which he had created with the child, plus the child’s unconscious fear of disobeying him.

    I suspect the relative dearth of comments on this post may be partly or wholly due to the fact that it’s such a scary topic to contemplate.

    Bless you for writing it though, as I’m sure it will help some readers when the time is right. 🙂

  2. I have saved this post to my personal file and intend to continue to educate my 6 yr old over the coming months and years. Currently, we’re working on the concept that NO ONE touches him in the places where his swim suit covers. Only he or a doctor have permission to touch him there. He washes himself in the bath. Wipes himself after going potty. Etc.

    We have previously worked on the difference between keeping secrets that are surprises and secrets that make you feel yucky. We will have to revisit that. And I will add these other tactics to my list of education / prevention against predators.

    There were so many things listed here that brought my heart to a standstill and made the hairs on my arms stand on end: “This. This is something my h would do. He has said or done something very similar to this.”

    I have great concerns for my son in this area. My h’s porn addiction (30 yrs+) and compulsive sexual behavior. His own history of molestation by a coach when he was a teenager. His flare up of anger and baseless accusation when I previously set a boundary that our son not sleep in the same bed as him overnight; “I don’t like it when you call me a pedophile!” My son’s complaints of pain in his genitals when he was 3yrs old – with no medical explanation – and claiming dad and / or grandpa “hurt his pee-pee.”

    So, yes. This is helpful. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    1. This is one of the best compilations of advice I have found in my several years of trying to find concise guidance to share with other mothers who are facing family violence or who just want to keep their children safe from sexual abuse in any context. Thank you so much! I will be sharing this. I echo what Barbara has said: the fact that sexual abuse may be happening to a child with the parent as perpetrator is simply too horrifying for many people to face though we know that incest is rampant. Thank you, Barbara, for sharing the story of another mother who was powerless to stop what she could see coming and her being “silenced” by the very justice system (family courts) that should be helping us to protect our children.

  3. I sure did appreciate the lists and things to look out for, as letting my girls start overnight visitation is upon me, and I will be watching, and have been already.
    Also, I was wondering if an underlying characteristic of abusers is cowardice. That is why they have to work so hard on having allies everywhere. Once stood up to, some at least, turn tail and run. They cannot stand alone to defend their words and actions, like we have to, to protect ourselves and our children. But as long as their allies have their back, and they have destroyed all ours, they feel safe continuing as they have. However, we have God as our defender, and justice will be served, one day. And in the meantime, He can get us through amazing difficulties.

    1. I watched an incredibly inspiring program on TV last night. It was a documentary about Kurdish soldiers who are fighting ISIS. I’ve known for years that hard-line Islamist teaching says that when men die in jihad, they are guaranteed 70 dark eyed virgins in Paradise. But I learned something new from this doco: the ISIS fighters believe that if in battle they are killed by a woman they do not get this blessing in Paradise. Wow! This means that when faced with female Kurdish soldiers, the ISIS fighters actually flee! The documentary showed some captured ISIS soldiers saying that.

      The following is copied from No Free Steps to Heaven PROMO [Internet Archive link] [Text bolded by Barb.]

      Meet the women taking up arms against Islamic State.

      “We are ISIS’s nightmare.” Ahin, female Kurdish guerrilla

      “They should fear me… What I have and they don’t is a purpose worth fighting for… I’m here to protect my existence.” Zozan, female Kurdish guerrilla

      These highly effective female fighters are taking on Islamic State forces in northern Iraq and Syria as part of the Kurdish guerrilla army.

      No Free Steps to Heaven [is] a film that takes you right into the conflict zone as these women take charge during tense fire fights.

      Through the camera of Israeli film-maker Itai Anghel, we meet young women giving up any prospect of a normal life to train and fight in tough conditions.

      Sitting fireside at night in the mountains, 20-year-old Zozan says: “I am fighting to live, they are fighting to die.”

      Then there’s newly trained Ahin on her way to join two siblings on the frontline. Anghel asks if she is afraid of ISIS. Her reply: “On the contrary they are afraid of us.”

      These female guerrillas also engage in psychological warfare. As they go into battle they taunt the ISIS fighters, who believe dying in combat will lead them to heaven and 72 virgins, but not if they are killed by a woman.

      NO FREE STEPS TO HEAVEN, reported by Itai Anghel and presented by Kerry O’Brien, went to air on Monday 27th April at 8.30pm on ABC Television (Australia). It is replayed on Tuesday 28th April at 10.00am and Wednesday 29th April at midnight (Eastern Australia Time). It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm, ABC iview and at

  4. I have just found this article on Church Protect, Inc. [Internet Archive link] which lists Myths about Child Sexual Abuse [Internet Archive link].

    It is a good article.

    However, on another page of that site, the page called Signs of Sexually Abused Children (which seems to give signs of adult survivors of CSA as much if not more than signs of children who experience CSA) they use two terms which we are uncomfortable about on this blog — codependent, and Stockholm syndrome.

    I have emailed the site owners and given them links to explain my concerns about the terms ‘codependent’ and ‘Stockholm syndrome’. I’m confident that when they are able they will reply to my email. 🙂

  5. A quote from another part of the Church Protect website Protect Plan [Internet Archive link] (this is the same website I linked to in my comment above)

    Train adults and children alike.
    Most programs train adults [in how to prevent child molestors from getting access to children] but fail to train children.

    Even if children are trained, “good touch / bad touch” training is not enough.

    We believe in having highly trained adults and children. Children are empowered to know if and when an attempted perpetration is taking place, how to safely respond, and how to report the incident to an adult. We believe that communicating to churches that our adults and children are well trained will make the risk of an offender getting caught skyrocket.

    In the words of an incarcerated sex offender, “The scariest thing is a child who says, ‘No!’ Even scarier is a child who says, ‘I’m telling.’ That’s a child I won’t mess with.”

  6. (Airbrushing….)

    Reading this hurts.

    The only list exceptions? (Neither would have applied.)

    The list of physical signs.

    The list of red flags identifying perpetrators.

    I am a survivor of sibling sexual abuse.

    Many of the items on the list, I have told others for years – children being taught the correct anatomical names was at the top.

    Using the phrase “private parts” starts the educational process, leading to more age appropriate words. The change to the correct terminology, however, is important.

    The only “terms” I was ever taught were the street slang. (All my siblings were older brothers, my “parents” avoided the topic completely.)

    I may have learned the correct anatomical terminology in high school, but I do not remember…the street slang was more familiar.

    By then, it was too late.

    I wish – oh I wish – Deborah’s post was available when I was a child.

    The only drawback?

    I had no one to trust.

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